By Charles Winecoff
Updated January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Though Billy Straight‘s set on the dark side of La-La Land, where runaway teens, coke whores, and wife-beating media heroes rule, this ambitious new novel by an old pro lacks the gritty feel of Hollywood sleaze that writers like Elmore Leonard live and breathe. Told partially in the voice of Billy Straight, a too-good-to-be-true kid who witnesses the slaying of a TV star’s ex-wife, the book (not part of Jonathan Kellerman’s famous Alex Delaware series) also presents a ”Ken and Barbie” detective team who never transcend the handle, even though Kellerman strives to give them depth. In the end, the busy but thin plot can’t shake the underlying saccharine tone. Billy’s surname says it all. C